How to Understand Long Sentences in IELTS Reading?

In English, we have simple sentences, compound sentences and complex sentences. All of them can be extended to long sentences and become a barrier for you to understand the whole article. In some cases, you can hardly get their meanings even though you know every word in those sentences. Today let’s take a look at how to understand long sentences in IELTS reading!


Long simple sentences

To understand long sentences in IELTS reading, you have to know different types of English sentence structures. The first one is simple sentence. No matter how long the sentence is, a simple sentence has only one clause. What you need to do is to identify the basic elements of the sentence. In other words, you need to find out the subject, predicate and object.

Here is an example of long simple sentences: The tall, good-looking boy with the curly blond hair over there laughed uproariously at his best friend’s suggestion.

The subject is the boy. The predicate is laugh at. The Object is the suggestion. Therefore, the key information in this sentence is The boy laughed at the suggestion.

Long compound sentences

The second one is compound sentence. Compound sentences are sentences with two or more clauses. They have coordinating conjunctions such as but and so or a semicolon (;) to join these clauses. Here is an example: I emailed him yesterday but he didn’t reply. For long compound sentences, you can regard each clause as a separate sentence, which will help you to understand the their meaning and function.

Below is an example of long compound sentences in IELTS reading practice.

All these activities may have damaging environmental impacts. For example, land clearing for agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation; chemical fertilisers and pesticides may contaminate water supplies; more intensive farming and the abandonment of fallow periods tend to exacerbate soil erosion; and the spread of monoculture and use of high-yielding varieties of crops have been accompanied by the disappearance of old varieties of food plants which might have provided some insurance against pests or diseases in future.

The second sentence is a quite long compound sentence with semicolons and the conjunction ‘and’. Each clause presents an example for All these activities may have damaging environmental impacts.


Long complex sentences

Another sentence structure is complex sentence. Complex sentences always have a main clause and at least one subordinating clause. The clauses are linked by subordinating conjunctions such as although, because, when, while and who. Here is an example of complex sentence: She went to the cafeteria (main clause) because she was hungry (subordinating clause). For longer complex sentences, you need to tell which is the main clause and which are the subordinating clauses.

Take a look at the following example from IELTS reading practice.

The prevailing notion that wind power is too costly results largely from early research which focused on turbines with huge blades that stood hundreds of metres tall.

The main clause here is The prevailing notion results largely from early research. This sentence includes three subordinating clause. The first one (that wind power is too costly) explains the details of the notion. The second one (which focused on turbines with huge blades) describes the content of the research. The last one (that stood hundreds of metres tall) describes the size of the blade.

Check out more IELTS practice tests and try your best to comprehend long sentences in the reading section! And for additional tips, tricks, and strategies for the Reading section, be sure to visit our Complete Guide to IELTS Reading.


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  • Kuangyan

    Kuangyan creates IELTS blogs at Magoosh. She is passionate about language education and has a MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from New York University. Kuangyan has experience of teaching English both in China and in US. In her free time, she drinks mocha, does yoga, takes photos and travels to different places to explore the exciting world.